Boba tea has worked its way into the daily routines of many Americans, almost to the point of obsession for some. Small independent boba shops are popping up across the country, and are especially embraced in Asian American communities and by Gen Z and Millennials.
It was only a matter of time before Big Coffee got into the bubble.
According to Business Insider, Starbucks is currently formulating its own rendition of bubble tea in the form of boba iced coffee drinks. There will be a limited test run of two beverages featuring “coffee pearls” made with tapioca at two stores this winter in California.
While the spokesperson Insider interviewed had no further comments, more details have been leaked via social media from individuals who visited these test locations. In a video posted to TikTok, user @kirbyssister shows advertisements urging customers to try the “coffee popping pearls.”
@kirbyssister(an “in the dark” ended up being a cold brew based drink) ##starbucks ##boba♬ in the dark – Bring Me The Horizon
The two boba drinks in development at these locations appear to be an “Iced Chai Tea Latte with Coffee Pearls,” priced $5.45, and an “In the Dark,” a cold-brew drink playing off the classic drink “A Shot in the Dark” or “Redeye” which is espresso added to drip brew, priced $5.25. Both drinks are in Starbucks’ “Grande” size, a.k.a. 16 ounces.
The TikTok account shows the location of Palm Desert, Calif. In the video, the “coffee popping pearls” are layered on top of ice, appearing to be about the same size and shape as a coffee bean, “really small and awkward to drink,” and “oddly salty-sweet,” according to the video voiceover and captions. (As any boba fan knows, neither of these characteristics are true of traditional boba, which is chewy and tapioca-flavored.)
Boba or bubble tea is originally a Taiwanese drink. It’s made with sweetened milk tea and tapioca pearls — chewy confections made with the roots of the cassava plant. Boba’s popularity has been embraced by many, bringing about the subculture phenomenon of “boba life” or “boba culture.”
According to Future Market Insights, the boba market is projected to be worth $2.3 billion by the end of 2021. Fortune Business Report estimates bubble tea’s global market share will reach $3.39 billion by 2027.
Starbucks is not the first major fast-food chain to hop onto the bubble tea train. Dunkin’, Sonic, and Midwest-based Caribou Coffee all offer variations on the drink. Boba has even left its fingerprint on the beverage alcohol industry, with micro-trends such as boba cocktails and boba beer popping up in recent years.
Boba is here for the long haul; whether more mainstream U.S. corporations continue to tap into this market remains to be seen.